Waking Up with Lady Liberty

Illustration of the Statue of Liberty with an American flag waving in the background



(SENIOR WIRE) It is 4:30 in the morning when our cruise ship pulls into New York Harbor. As wide awake as the city that never sleeps, I worm my way up to the open deck and find a space on the starboard side. New York City’s skyline seems to be kicking up her heels with more sass and bling than a chorus line of Rockettes. “Take a look at me,” she sings, “I’m the most exciting city in the world.”

As I hang onto the side of the ship, I cannot help but wonder how my great-grandfather felt when first he glimpsed Lady Liberty.

I hope someone told him the story of how the statue came to be constructed from toe to crown, and how ships transported it, piece by piece, from France to America. He probably never heard it, but I am certain he wiped tears from his eyes as he stood at the railing and allowed The Lady’s glow to shine the light of freedom on him.

What might he have been thinking? What would he have said to his little brother standing next to him, both of them having recently fled the devastating potato famine in Ireland, and both of them scared out of their Irish britches?

“Look at er ovah dere, lad, the ol’ gurl hursef. That’s our noo mum. She’s gon’ tek’ caire of us naiw, she is. Don’t ye be frettin’.”

Lil’ brother likely whimpered at the mention of their mother, a victim of poverty and neglect, buried a mere month before the boys set sail. 

Perhaps he moved a wee bit closer to his big brother, the one who was charged with his welfare once they set foot on American soil, the one who would find work however he could in order to feed, clothe and properly school them in their new country.

My guess is they looked across the New York Harbor that day at the torch held high by The Lady and were warmed all over by her light, just as much as I am today.

They came here with nothing, having left everything behind in the fallow potato fields of Ireland. In time, their losses would be replaced with fulfilled dreams made each night while they grew into men and good Americans. Like so many immigrants throughout the history of our country, their earnest prayers were answered, their hopes rewarded.

Many of us will never get the chance to look upon The Statue of Liberty at daybreak or any other time of day. Seeing her at least once should be a requirement for every citizen of our great country, but one of the things that makes us great is that we don’t require it of our people.

It comes as no surprise to me that The Lady’s power too often gets lost amid the information overload we are fed and must sift through day after day.

But she is patient. She is willing to stand her ground and remain strong for all of us. Lest we forget what she symbolizes, the poet Emma Lazarus summed it up in her work engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The Lady lifted her lamp to a homeless, tempest-tossed Irish boy and his brother and because she did, our country was made stronger. My great-grandfather became a proud citizen and later served his country with honor.

The accomplishments of his descendants would have filled him with awe: A symphony musician, NASA engineer, criminal defense attorney, Episcopal priest, social psychologist, writer­, teacher—every one of them good Americans.

Nothing can ever diminish the spark of hope woven into the fiber of our Statue of Liberty, and nothing should ever diminish the humanity of those who come to America seeking a better life.

“Give me your tired, your poor.” ISI

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